By Hannah Reich Berman
Until recently, I never paid attention to occasional news about the sultan of Brunei. Sure, I knew that he was wealthiest man in the world; that much got through to me. But it never occurred to me to read further or check his assets. As Brunei is so far from my world, I was not interested in the country or its leader. And the lifestyle of anyone with a net worth of somewhere between 20 and 30 billion dollars was nothing I could relate to anyhow. (It is anywhere from 20 billion or 30 billion, depending on which report one reads. But does it really matter?)
Lately, however, the sultan has been making the headlines so often that it has been difficult to ignore the guy. So, over the past few weeks I admit that I became intrigued. My lack of interest suddenly turned to fascination. I discovered that not only is he the absolute monarch of his country, but he is also the self-appointed prime minister. The words self-appointed tell the whole story. But I’m not sure that the residents of Brunei care that he does this self-appointing. The good news for them is that every citizen of that place is well-off. Nobody goes hungry, not one soul is poor or wanting for anything. But there is also bad news in the mix, at least for the females. The sultan (a.k.a. the monarch and the prime minister) imposes Sharia law, and in a way that does not treat women kindly.
It might also be said that the laws of Judaism are tough, since Judaism is a comprehensive way of life, filled with rules and practices that affect every aspect of the way we live. But nothing compares to Sharia. Judaism is not cruel. To the best of my somewhat limited knowledge, our penalties are for the aggressor, not the victim. Under Sharia law in Brunei, however, if a girl is raped, she, not the rapist, is punished (or rather, further punished by the law in addition to having suffered the crime), perhaps even stoned to death.
Suddenly people are waking up and some celebrities and organizations are showing their displeasure by boycotting hotels owned by the sultan. This action makes the boycotters feel good, but it doesn’t do much more than that, since someone worth billions of dollars is unlikely to feel the pinch.
Over the course of my financially modest life, I have occasionally wondered what it would be like to be rich. What would I do if I had a lot of money? Originally, my idea of what constituted a lot of moolah was a million dollars. That changed as I matured and then I dreamed about having several times that amount—millions! But I never dreamed of having billions. So no questions have come to mind about how I would live if I had that amount of money. That doesn’t mean that I have no questions. It’s just that my questions are of a different nature. They are not about me, but about the guy who has the billions and how he lives and behaves.
The sultan of Brunei is the proud owner of, among thousands of other collectibles, some 400 Boeing 747s, 200 Airbus 340s, and several other jets. Ordinary folks are happy if they can afford a plane ticket to a vacation spot, assuming they can afford to take a vacation. The sultan also owns a chain of homes around the world, and his homes are not exactly what we might imagine. And here I do have questions and some thoughts. His main palace has five pools, so if someone yells “Help, I’m drowning!” how does anybody know which pool to run to for the rescue?
The residence boasts 257 lavatories and 564 chandeliers. I question who shines and polishes the chandeliers and who cleans those bathrooms. Especially all those mirrors! And does having all those bathrooms mean that there are 257 toilet plungers and an equal number of toilet-bowl brushes? Where does he store a supply of Windex or Glass Plus for all those bathroom mirrors and for the crystals that hang from 64 chandeliers? Another question I have is, exactly who counted all of those things?
His palace boasts a main dining room that can seat 4,000 people and a more modest-sized one that accommodates a mere 365. Who has that many friends to invite for dinner? Who has that many friends, period?
The sultan owns between 5,000 and 7,000 cars—depending on which estimates one believes. But, again, what’s 2,000 cars one way or the other? He has 600 Mercedes-Benzes and an unspecified number of BMWs, Aston Martins, Bentleys, Porsches, McLarens, Jaguars, and Ferraris. His favorite vehicle appears to be the Rolls-Royce, and he keeps one of those running in front of his palace 24/7. Every car in his collection is bulletproof (good idea) and each of them has state-of-the-art technology. There was no mention of Chevys or Fords or, going the Asian route, a Toyota or a Hyundai.
On his grounds, he houses over 200 polo ponies. That’s fascinating to those of us who are happy just to have enough space in the house and a backyard for a dog. And some apartment dwellers have dogs even in a one-bedroom flat with no backyard.
This next piece of vital information really blows me away. It is hard to comprehend this, but the sultan of Brunei has been known to spend $2,100 on a haircut. I hope he left a decent tip.
Having divorced a few times, the man currently has only two wives, but chances are that could change at any time. According to the laws by which he lives, he is allowed to have many more. And he still might. But that is not as bad as it sounds. Since his palace has over 1,800 rooms, all of his wives, as well as his eight children, can live in the palace without worrying about bumping into anyone they would rather not see.
This is the life of the sultan of Brunei, the same person who enforces the laws of Sharia that we find so utterly appalling. And boycotting one, or even several, of his hotels or convention rooms can’t mean much to him. Most people have no idea which banks and hotels are owned by him, but there are a considerable number of them. It might be better to think about the women who live in his country and to try to find a way to get them to safety. That’s the way it is. v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.